No One Should Have a Blank Check For War. Especially Not Donald Trump.

Update

The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), a law that in practice has allowed presidents to wage endless wars across the globe, took an unprecedented blow after the House Democrats included a full repeal in the Defense Appropriations bill that passed on June 19. With growing concern that the Trump administration could use the AUMF to justify another war, this time with Iran, the Democratic House majority took forceful steps to end this possibility.

The appropriations bill will now move to the Senate, where it faces a tough battle. We’ll need to keep the pressure up on Senate Democrats and Republicans to get them to keep this provision in the bill. Call your Senator today and tell them to support repeal of the 2001 AUMF!

For nearly 18 years, American presidents have been using a single sentence passed by Congress to justify secretive, ineffective, bloody wars all over the world.

This is not how constitutional checks and balances are supposed to work: the American people, through their elected representatives, are supposed to determine when and where we go to war. Instead, Congress has largely abdicated this responsibility and declined to exercise its authority to rein in presidential war powers.

The stakes are very high here: Donald Trump is now the president. Control of America’s massive, unchecked war machine has now fallen into Trump’s hands. He has proven to be volatile, impulsive, and untrustworthy when it comes to foreign policy. He has escalated current conflicts and threatens to start new ones. If ever there was a moment for Congress to yank back its war powers, it’s now.

Every Member of Congress (MoC) should be on the record in support of repealing Trump’s blank check for war. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is “The AUMF”?

Immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001, then-President Bush announced a “global war on terror,” and asked Congress for wide military authority. Under the Constitution, it’s Congress’ responsibility to decide when and where to go to war—not the President’s.

Congress gave President Bush what he asked for. They overwhelmingly passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force—most people just call it “the AUMF.” It was a short, 60-word sentence authorizing the president to take military action that he deemed “necessary and appropriate.” It didn’t include many limits—no restrictions on where to use military force, no clear identification of the enemy, and no expiration date.

Only one Member of Congress voted against it at the time. Rep. Barbara Lee warned that we shouldn’t “become the evil we deplore” by jumping into limitless war.

She was right: the AUMF proved to be dangerous. That short resolution was used by the Bush administration not only to launch a massive war in Afghanistan and beyond, but also to detain people without charge or fair trial at Guantanamo Bay, to torture detainees, to use surveillance without warrants, and more. President Obama then relied on the “blank check” to justify his expanded drone wars. These actions have harmed human rights and civil liberties, and made us less safe. Most recently, the Congressional Research Service notes that the AUMF has been invoked to justify actions in 19 countries—and those are just the instances we know about.

Fast forward to today, and the AUMF is still on the books. And now it’s in Donald Trump’s hands.

Why Is This a Problem?

This gives Donald Trump a massive amount of power to unilaterally wage war. Remember, Congress—not the President—is supposed to decide when to go to war. But as long as this “blank check” is available, the administration can just cite it as legal authority without going to Congress for real debate and vote.

That lets Congress off the hook, too. They can avoid taking controversial positions if they don’t have to vote on war. They can just let things happen on autopilot and blame the administration when things go wrong.

This is a lot of power for Trump to hold, with no checks or balances. He has promised to “load Guantanamo up,” to commit war crimes, to bring back torture, and to consider creating a Muslim registry. He’s already implemented a Muslim and refugee ban citing national security concerns, and ramped up military operations that have racked up the civilian body count in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond. He built a war cabinet that includes John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and Gina Haspel to carry out his destructive agenda. He has declared a fake national security emergency to justify a racist and unnecessary border wall and deportation force.

A blank check is a dangerous thing in Trump’s hands. Congress should be finding a way to take it away from him.

TAKE ACTION

Every Member of Congress should be on the record in support of repealing Trump’s blank check for war. Ask your representative to co-sponsor H.R. 1274 as a way to demonstrate strong support for ending our endless wars and revoking Trump’s dangerous blank check to start more.

Call Now!

What Is Congress Doing About It?

Rep. Barbara Lee has again introduced a standalone bill to repeal the AUMF, as she does every year. We want to see lots of MoCs co-sponsor her bill as a way to demonstrate strong support for ending our endless wars and revoking Trump’s dangerous blank check to start more.

You can check here to see if your Representative has co-sponsored the repeal bill. If they have, thank them! If not, urge them to do so immediately.

But beyond the standalone bill, “must-pass bills” offer key opportunities to move forward on AUMF repeal. You may recall from Indivisible on Offense that essential legislation authorizing important agencies or appropriating money can provide key opportunities to extract concessions on progressive priorities. Two such bills in particular provide vehicles for AUMF repeal: defense appropriations and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

In the spring of 2017, Rep. Barbara Lee successfully convinced a bipartisan committee to adopt repeal language into the defense appropriations bill, only to have House Speaker Paul Ryan strip it out quietly before it even got a floor vote.

Now, we have a new opportunity to renew this debate. With Democrats in control of the House, there is leverage to build support for AUMF repeal as we head into debates over must-pass defense authorization and spending bills, as well as the 2020 presidential cycle.

It is likely that there will be at least one opportunity vote on AUMF repeal on the House floor as part of must-pass legislation. Members of Congress must commit to vote in favor of amendments to add AUMF repeal language, and against amendments that would strip such language.

Sample Call Script

Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m a constituent from [STATE]. I’m calling because I’m very concerned about Trump’s broad war powers. 

Congress and the people, not the President, are supposed to decide when and where we go to war. I’m also aware that this broad authorization has been used to justify many human rights abuses, and that Trump is particularly prone to authoritarian and abusive power grabs.

I strongly support repeal of the 2001 “AUMF” blank check for war. I urge Representative [NAME] to commit to vote for amendments to must-pass bills such as defense appropriations or the NDAA that would repeal the AUMF. I will be calling back to ensure that they have done so.